Blue Jays Prospect Trio Lead Low-A Pitching Staff
LANSING, Mich.—Not only do Justin Nicolino
, Aaron Sanchez
and Noah Syndergaard
rank among the best pitching prospects in the low Class A Midwest League, but the three Blue Jays farmhands also are best friends.
The three-headed pitching monster of Nicolino, Sanchez and Sydnergaard has gone a cumulative 19-5, 2.37 for Lansing, recording 234 strikeouts in 209 innings and contributing significantly to the pitching staff's first-place standing in the MWL in terms of ERA (3.10), WHIP (1.25) and strikeout rate (8.3 per nine innings).
Since Nicolino, Sanchez and Syndergaard were drafted out of high school in 2010, none will be older than 20 at the end of the season. Toronto selected Sanchez (34th overall) and Syndergaard (38th) in the supplemental first round two years ago, then nabbed Nicolino, the lone lefty in the trio, in the second round with the 80th pick.
"You come into pro ball and you hear all these things about how you've got to watch out for guys, and certain guys might be bad (influences), but in my two years of pro ball it hasn't been like that," Nicolino said. "With Sanchez, basically from Day One we met and it was like a brotherhood.
"Same with Noah. He's the youngest guy out of all of us, but you would think that he's the big brother when really I'm the oldest, and it seems like I'm the smallest with those two."
Pitching Coach's Dream
Lansing pitching coach Vince Horsman appreciates the level of determination and dedication he sees from his prospect pupils. "They understand, they get the message, they can adjust, they can adapt," he said. "They're just very bright kids for such young men."
Horsman also credited a secret weapon at the disposal of Nicolino, Sanchez and Sydnergaard.
"I think you've got to take into account the strength and conditioning
coach, Jason Dowse," the pitching coach said. "Nobody ever sees him or hears of him, but he's got
his hands on these guys every day. I think a lot of the credit should go
For now, each pitcher is experiencing the rigors of a five-month minor league season for the first time, and each naturally has room for improvement. Fortunately, they have the advantage of learning from each other.
"We try to talk about hitters and how hitters go about their business,"
Sanchez said. "Justin obviously has the best changeup in the
organization, and Noah has an overpowering fastball, and I've got a good
curveball and all this stuff down (in the strike zone). Sometimes we
talk about pitching, but it's just more about how we attack hitters and
how we go about the lineup."
Sanchez, who rooms with Nicolino, led the trio with a 1.41 ERA and 1.08 WHIP through mid-July. The Barstow, Calif., native struck out 72 and walked 36 through 64 innings, allowing 33 hits.
"I think just overall my command (has been my biggest improvement)," he said. "Overall command with my fastball (and) being able to throw my offspeed for strikes. I'm more consistent in the strike zone and shrinking the box. That's been the biggest thing."
The 20-year-old righty credits his pitching coach with helping him make the changes that he needed this season, after a rough season with Rookie-level Bluefield a year ago.
"This year with (Horsman), it's been so hands-on for four months now that the success I'm having has put a lot of credit toward him just being on top of me (between starts)," Sanchez said. "His being so in-depth with what we're working on every day in between starts has been a lot of help for me."
Horsman's take: "With Sanchez, he's got three above-average major league pitches right now. It's just about being consistent."
Breaking In The Breaking Ball
Nicolino feels that the routine he's become accustomed to under Horsman's watch has also been a valuable component of his success. The southpaw from Orlando has gone 5-2, 2.38 this season with 78 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 77 1/3 innings.
"I want to say that compared to last year, I feel 100 percent stronger," the 20-year-old Nicolino said, "just because of the way I'm working out, the way I'm taking care of my body, the way that Vince and James (Gardiner, strength and conditioning coach) and Jason (Dowse), our trainer, are working with us. It's allowed us to go out there and be strong and compete every five days."
Horsman's take: "Nicolino has really done a nice
job of improving his curveball and making it a really
valuable pitch. It's an average major league pitch most nights and some
nights it's even better than that."
Syndergaard had struck out a staff-leading 84 batters in 67 2/3 innings, while walking 18 and allowing 56 hits. He leads the MWL with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and the 19-year-old feels that the added benefit of having 'Sancholino' around has helped.
"Even when we're outside working on stuff—Sanchez and Nicolino and I—even when we're playing catch we'll work on stuff," the Mansfield, Texas, native said. "If we're doing something wrong, we'll coach each other. That's nice to have."
Horsman's take: "Noah's developing a breaking ball and going out there and trusting it and throwing it in the game and not worrying if somebody gets a hit off of it. But down here that's what it's about. It's about developing your pitches, and he's already got two pretty polished pitches and it's about getting that third."